Finding Balance in Brand
BY Stacey King Gordon
Getting back to the earth with simple, honest packaging.
Something interesting happens when you talk to Bevan Bloemendaal and Theresa Palermo, two of the minds behind footwear manufacturer Timberland’s “green” packaging initiative that launched in 2006. Unprompted, they each start to use words and phrases like authentic. Holistic. And doing more with less.
While it’s not unusual for the champions of a well-known socially conscious brand to slip into new-age-sounding talk, it is curious that they use such words to describe work they did in past jobs—Bloemendaal at Footlocker Group and Palermo at Kodak. Yet, for both, the theme of pure and simple branding has carried through their careers. And that background prepared them to pounce when the idea to convey Timberland’s social responsibility through packaging began to take shape.
The kernel of the idea to tell Timberland’s story actually originated from a challenge by the company’s CEO. “Jeff Swartz had, on multiple occasions, asked the team for something that would provide transparency with regard to where and how our products are being manufactured [and] how we [talked] the talk with regard to our environmental footprint—to tell the story from the inside out,” says Bloemendaal, senior director of global creative services.
Swartz knew exactly what he wanted to communicate, but the idea of how to get these messages across hadn’t yet materialized. After some time, Bloemendaal and his team had a realization: whenever they had a conversation with Swartz about his goals, they noticed he would hold up a food or beverage container that had inspired him, such as a bottle of Honest Tea, with a label that told the company story.
“It didn’t take long before we finally realized the obvious, that the medium already existed and was accepted by the consumer as the place to look for information [on] the products they were purchasing,” Bloemendaal says. “It was the nutrition label.”
The brand and creative teams loved the idea of a design inspired by the FDA’s Nutrition Facts. “What an awesome opportunity to be the first in the footwear industry to provide an unprecedented level of transparency to our consumers,” Bloemendaal says.
Food manufacturers can tell their stories in marketing copy on their bottles, but the real story is told through the numbers, and the stewards of the Timberland brand were excited about being able to demonstrate the company’s commitment in an honest and straightforward way.
The result was the “Our Footprint” label, a diligent listing of facts such as the amount of energy, in kilowatts, used to make each pair of shoes and the city where each pair was manufactured. The “stamp” was originally used on investor communications like the annual social responsibility report, but the creative and brand teams saw the chance for it to become an emblem of the Timberland brand for consumers.
That’s where packaging came in.
“I believe [brand and packaging] to be inextricably linked,” says Bloemendaal. The creative and brand teams set out to purposefully rethink the packaging to back up, through more discriminating construction and materials, what the Our Footprint label was trying to communicate: the Timberland brand’s full commitment to doing good.”
The team stripped away everything and started with a blank slate. “We tried to do the bare minimum and have minimal environmental impact,” says Palermo, the company’s former senior brand manager. (Palermo recently moved to a new position as a director in one of the company’s product divisions.)
The brand and creative teams researched and selected soy-based inks, 100 percent recycled, post-consumer waste cardboard and water-based solvents in place of chemical glues.
Palermo says her close work with Bloemendaal on developing the ideas for the new packaging and putting the ideas into action is indicative of a culture of cross-functional collaboration at Timberland. “It’s how people work every day,” she says. “It’s part of who the brand is.”
Take, for instance, another major project Palermo worked on in her two years as senior brand manager. The “women’s initiative,” as it was known, was a drive to transform Timberland footwear from a historically male brand to one that spoke to women. From marketing and advertising to the way products were designed, the company worked together to extend the way Timberland reached out to women.
That initiative segued well into the new packaging rollout. “The value messaging resonates with female consumers even more,” Palermo says.
And it is another example of a well-orchestrated effort across a collaborative corporation. From the supply chain helping with durability testing to product development ensuring the shoes would fit in the new boxes, everybody had a hand in helping the new packaging come together.
“We even have an environmental scientist in house, to be able to verify that when the rubber meets the road, our efforts really do have the impact we say they do,” says Palermo. “When I came to this company, I used to speak marketing-ese. Now after working with [the scientist], I speak science-ese!”
That collaboration has a global reach. In his eight years at Timberland, Bloemendaal has worked with many disciplines to oversee the design of the company’s retail store in Tokyo’s prestigious Ginza district. But he counts the Our Footprint design and packaging initiative as one of the projects of which he’s most proud. At the end of the day, he believes the package and what it stands for stays with consumers long after they leave the store—and that part of Timberland’s brand is helping to salvage the very ecosystem its products are made to enjoy.
“We are pulling on our boots to make a difference, equipping our consumers to feel unstoppable in [their] daily journeys,” Bloemendaal says. “Our commitment [is to] reduce global warming and make the outdoor environment better for all of us to enjoy…today and tomorrow.”
SENIOR DIRECTOR, GLOBAL CREATIVE SERVICES, TIMBERLAND
Name: Bevan Bloemendaal
Title: Senior director, global creative services
Years in current job: Eight.
Ultimate branded package: The Tiffany blue box and white ribbon.
What’s on your nightstand? Harvard Business Review on Marketing
DIRECTOR FOR U.S., CASUAL GEAR WHOLESALE MARKETING, TIMBERLAND
Name: Theresa Palermo
Title: Director for U.S., casual gear wholesale marketing (formerly senior brand manager)
Years in current job: Two months (and two years in former position)
Ultimate branded package: Apple. They’ve reinvented what packaging does, and the way it works in collaboration with the product.
What’s on your nightstand? An issue of InStyle magazine. (“I have 19-month-old twins!”)